Obama and the Pope are leading the way to a new epoch

What an odd combination: a lame-duck president in his last year and a soon-to-be-octogenarian with a weak lung taking on Big Business capitalists at home and abroad. There are many scorecards out there that measure these two leaders’ progress over their terms in office, but let’s distill them down to a Top Five Accomplishments list each.
Let’s see, Obama has done the following:
a) Restored America to its economic powerhouse status from the Bush legacy of a collapsed economy in 2008.
b) Provided Healthcare to those without it in the richest nation on earth.
c) Ended two unpopular and draining wars abroad.
d) Taken a stand on the Environment and on Renewable Energy.
e) Stopped nuclear proliferation with a creative plan on Iran that traditionalists are having a hard time comprehending.

As for the Pope:
a) Cleaned out hidden accounts and rogue budgets at the Vatican.
b) Come out strongly on Climate Change and challenged corporations to comply.
c) Speaks to service rather than privilege within the Church hierarchy and demonstrates it by visiting prisons and washing the feet of prisoners.
d) Talks freely with journalists and reporters instead of using the carefully prepared press statements synonymous with corporate bureaucracies.
e) Has undertaken a reform of the infamous Curia.

Naysayers will argue that many of these initiatives are incomplete or that they have been improperly executed. The fact of the matter is that they have been attempted.

The world goes through cycles of economic systems: capitalists epochs, socialist ones, back to capitalism and so on. None of these systems are perfect, and when they have been in place for long periods, greed infiltrates, a stasis develops, and the epoch begins to crumble. In just the last century, we have seen parts of the world swing from monarchies, to unbridled capitalism to communism, to social-democracy and back to capitalism, with two global wars acting as catalysts for change. We emerged into the 21st century with capitalism being firmly in the lead, and with many of the other systems having fallen behind for reasons of poor implementation and lack-lustre management. But now it’s time for capitalism to take a back-seat for it has gone on for too long and caused too much damage:
a) The rich have got richer, the poor poorer, and by 2016 the world’s wealthiest 1% will own more than 50% of its resources.
b) Climate change is a fact and the 20th century was the warmest in 1300 years. And 14 of the hottest 15 years have occurred in the 21st century.
c) Worker rights have declined; first with governments taking over what trade unions did (because the trade unions themselves created their own bloat and demise), and then reducing those rights with subsequent legislation when under pressure from Big Business sponsors.
d) The world has become an unsafe place, with many countries ending up as “failed states” caused by civil war or economic mismanagement, to the point that the have-nots want to harm the haves, and the haves are erecting walls to keep the have-nots out.

Many of us, once former capitalists, agree that the world has swung too far right and a course correction is required lest we plunge into the abyss. It’s time to bring in the “other guys,” even for a breather, until we find our direction again. Therefore, tough choices need to be made at inflection points like this, and it’s refreshing to know that these two old veterans, Barack and Francis, are willing to lead the charge and go to bat for the rest of the world. It’s a pity that the rest of the world is not rising to this call as a collective, and that people are still polarized and caught up in a “to be or not to be” paralysis, caught in the middle by the clever media manipulation of both sides of the political divide.

Come on guys, give this odd couple a chance. These two aging puppet masters have no more skin in the game, other than personal glory. And personal glory has a better chance pumping some good back into the system than monetary gain which takes value out and places it only at the disposal of the puppet master.

Standing on the Edge, Again

I recently bought a small place back in the Big Smoke. A bold move for a guy with indeterminate income who had started to get comfortable in semi•retirement, writing books and playing guitar in his small town by the lake. I will have to work again – I mean, really work – to afford it all, with a hovering recession and high unemployment that refuses to go away as my travelling companions. In exchange, I would be opened to the attractions and distractions that the city would offer: theatre, art, literary events, traffic, rent•a•bike, smog and crime. And I would stand once more at a window on the larger world of diverse and displaced people struggling to make it in their new home, just like I did, oh so many years ago.

I remember when I first “retired” from writing and moved abroad, in my early twenties, because at that time all the stories of my tender life experience had been written and I needed new fodder. I never thought that I would ever write again. I wanted to “do” not “dream.” The next 20 years of “doing” and screwing up gave me enough for a truckload of books and stories, but now that conduit too has slowed to a trickle. The time to hunt has begun again; the new harvest, or gathering, will have to follow at a later date. Life, it seems, full of new beginnings. What is the alternative? An ending? The END?

But now there are those reports of the “throwaway glass condos” springing up all over Toronto, buildings that are energy efficient yet not durable in the long term. Have I picked myself one of these lemons? Should I have stayed put in my cottage by the lake and buried my money under a mattress to escape the stock market’s never ending case of the hiccups? Am I suffering from buyer’s remorse? Am I scared of change, of the unknown? Isn’t life all about surprises? Couldn’t just the next medical check•up spring a surprise?

They say that growth happens on the edge, not in the comfort zone, and I am deliberately placing myself on the edge again I realize, hoping that it would bring me raw material for the next round of stories, whether that even includes personal loss. Unlike my last “retirement”, my life span is a lot shorter now, so I can’t afford another 20 years of “doing” before the next harvest of experiences. I am going to have to gather as I do and hope that the finished material falls into a coherent whole. Writing on the go will also help me deal with the fear of taking the plunge again.

Stepping off edges doesn’t get easier with age; on the contrary, it’s bloody scary, but exhilarating! What will I attempt next? Russian Roulette? Or bungee jumping off the CN Tower?

Changing Careers

Having had many careers, all of which eventually ended, I contemplated the evolution of careers and our helpless gravitation towards them.

From the days of Ancient Egypt to the middle of the last century it was fashionable for men to take up careers as soldiers. Some of my ancestors were soldiers. Some career soldiers even did it without loyalty to king and country but with their eyes on money and spoils instead; they were called mercenaries, or in today’s parlance, contract killers. Their not•so•bloodthirsty compatriots joined the clergy and found food, shelter, and power in exchange for commitments of celibacy, 24/7 availability, and piety. Some of my ancestors were clergy too. These were two very solid professions that endured for very long – until recently.

WWII cured our attraction to war and put an end to the mass conscription of soldiers, and, except in a few countries, soldiering in peacetime became just another job. Oh yes, a few strategically placed wars are still being ignited in a handful of non•strategic countries just to keep the arms industry and the armed forces in maintenance mode – but that is all. The clergy paled too, when its ranks (especially the male ranks) got tired of the sacrifice they were being asked to make by working long hours for less than minimum wage without the benefits of family to divert their focus from God’s work; and its power eroded too because a few weaker members decided to obey the demands of their loins instead of their souls and got caught in the act.

The 20th century saw the emergence of the business executive in America, exemplified by that instantly recognizable designation – MBA. In the middle of the last century, the MBA went international, and the pursuit of money and material status became paramount in the post•war boom, overriding those past pop career occupations of killing humans or saving souls. I joined this race too. But by the time the 21st century dawned, the shine had gone out of business. The stock market had imploded periodically on its greed, several times over, and its largest convulsion in the fall of 2008 has made us all debtors for decades to come. Another age was being called for.

I’m calling this present one the Age of the Artist. Technology has helped musicians, writers, DIY TV producers, painters and other creators to churn out truckloads of expression, and they are no longer fettered by gatekeepers who make art the preserve of a few. Now we have better videos on You Tube (short, attention•grabbing and graphic – making their producers celebrities within minutes); books pouring out of everyone living long enough to have a story to tell and a day job to pay the bills (which includes people like me); free digital music from musicians who manage to scrounge the money to produce a handful of songs, put them up on ITunes, and then go off on concert tour – we live in a state of artsy abundance, indeed. This age too will wear out on its excess, I think, when the law of diminishing returns starts to take hold, if it hasn’t already.

I wonder what careers in the next age, the Age of Responsibility, will be like. An age of green living, of cleaning up the excesses of the past, of living on pesticide•free home•grown vegetables, of three meals a day taken at the proper times, of strong family values and spirituality that is not organized and politicized; an age when careers will matter only if they transition us towards wisdom. Sounds boring, eh, to some of us diehards who cling to the dying Ages of Excess? Broccoli for breakfast – ugh! Or would this be the signal that we have finally come full circle since that departure in Ancient Egypt, like the exiles returning home to their Promised Land and to the way of life that their Good Book had always instructed them to live by? Would the word “Career” even exist in this new age?